Rude Chapbooks 04.11.11 | Nothing to Fear but Ennui Itself

Notwithstanding a script from one of the mainstream’s top talents, Fear Itself #1, the subject of one of this week’s five capsule reviews, could substitute for Ambien—a real snoozer. Far more invigorating than the debut of that “event”: Uncle Scrooge #402 and Who Is Jake Ellis? #3.

At length, in a series or even just a miniseries, writer/artist Michael Allred’s signature character has inevitably disappointed because that character feels less mad than merely whimsical. (Lo-fi and high-concept simply do not mesh.) Still, every now and then, brief revisitations like All-New Giant-Size Super Ginchy Special!—amusingly, the official title in the publication’s indicia excludes the name of its star, Madman—provide a reminder of the character’s modest appeal. The Image singleton leads with “If I Should Live to See the Day I Die!” from Allred himself, 18 pages of the usual twee tropes that, sad to say, never do justice to that title. Thereafter follow two forgettable eight-pagers from Emi Lenox and Matt Kindt, the latter of which strays into too-cool-for-schoolness with its portentous but wan appropriation of the Beats; then comes a more traditional nine-page narrative from Tonci Zonjic, graced with his typically Impressionistic visuals—arguably this one-shot’s zenith. Padding the so-called special are 20 pages of pinups from Michael (yes, Michael) Cho and others. Basically a $5.99 pack of bubble gum.
Later this spring, DC will strive to glut the market with Flashpoint and its ancillae, and following an underwhelming mid-March Captain America–related prelude, Marvel this week preemptively unleashes its own Fear Itself #1. Between the two, complicit (if not wholly complacent) readers should feel well and truly F’ed. During the past decade or so, the comics mainstream has increasingly whored itself to serving as a “character library” for movie studios, to embracing TV inanities in diverse ways, and to staging clockwork, cookie-cutter “events,” and Fear Itself #1 exemplifies the third variety of prostitution. Beyond customarily stunning visuals from penciller Stuart Immonen—a cover credit not duplicated on the masthead suggests Wade von Grawbadger inked the issue—this 44-page artifact, wherein the new, distaff Red Skull maneuvers to conquer or destroy reality with aid from a pre-Odin “allfather,” has nothing to recommend it. That it boasts a script from Matt Fraction, the genius creator of Casanova and the sterling steward of Invincible Iron Man, prompts something approximating clinical depression. Comics scriptwriting subjugated to action-figure cha-ching.
Please, Lord, make the pain stop soon. After peremptorily eighty-sixing its Minx line and Zuda webcomics experiment, two far worthier efforts, DC continues to boggle the mind, in a signally disagreeable fashion, by supporting the abominable First Wave quasi-imprint, which this week sacrifices trees to First Wave Special #1. What monstrous offal! This 30-page atrocity from writer Jason Starr and artist Phil Winslade putatively stars Richard Henry Benson, the second-tier but no less estimable pulp hero that premiered in 1939 in The Avenger (which San Antonio’s Sanctum Books started reprinting in facsimile double editions two years ago). The adverb putatively derives from the fact that this dreck bears only the most passing of resemblances to the original, written by Paul Ernst under the house name “Kenneth Robeson.” Endlessly pontifical and arguably psychotic, this Avenger flaunts fake chest hair and a single-digit I.Q. in pursuit of a who-could-possibly-care crime lord—a bit of quote-unquote hard-boiled nonsense several degrees shy even of soft-boiled, a yolk without a punch line, an excruciatingly rotten yegg. All puns aside? Vile.
Let us, then, bow to inevitability and assign the rubric of “Classic Disney Exception” to the republication in a comic of older material whose vintage combines with an inexplicable, even shameful, neglect to override this column’s customary focus on current content. Previously here, the C.D.E. applied to huzzahs for Floyd Gottfredson and Don Rosa. This week, at last, it extends to “the Good Duck Artist,” Carl Barks, and to BOOM! Studios’ Uncle Scrooge #402, devoted, in toto, to reprinting “The Fabulous Philosopher’s Stone” from 1955. It almost goes without saying that the tale commences with Scrooge McDuck researching the alchemical doodad that could supposedly transmute lesser metals into gold. As day follows night, Scrooge’s research sparks a search involving his perennially hapless employee and nephew, Donald Duck, and Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Thereafter? Jaunts to Germany, Rome, Sicily, Damascus, Baghdad, and Crete. A bearded, bespectacled mystery man shadowing their search. That indispensable ancestor of the Web, The Junior Woodchucks’ Guide Book. And oh, yeah—the Minotaur. Likely no more joyous comic will appear this month.
An unscientific survey of St. Louis–area comics shops suggests that all of them have been underordering the five-issue Image miniseries of which Who Is Jake Ellis? #3 forms the midpoint. A gross oversight. This contemporary thriller—which focuses on erstwhile CIA analyst Jon Moore and his eponymous, enigmatic “guardian angel,” whom only he can see and hear—feels like a bona fide sleeper. In his scripts, Nathan Edmondson displays notable restraint and authority, with just one unfortunate slip. (Even Bacardi 151 has to be coaxed to ignite, so the Spaniards at the miniseries’ opening couldn’t have been drinking the Macallan, at a lightweight 86° proof.) On the visuals, meanwhile, Tonci Zonjic, like Daniel Acuña, numbers among a recent infusion into domestic comics of (apparently) non-U.S. artists whose gloriously muscular minimalism recalls the work of the late, great Alex Toth. The bullet here? Aficionados who fail to cajole, coerce, or otherwise compel their friendly neighborhood comics retailers to back-order this miniseries “in floppy” should preorder the eventual compilation of Who Is Jake Ellis? Good stuff. | Bryan A. Hollerbach
Click here to preview the Madman All-New Giant-Size Super Ginchy Special! and here to preview Who Is Jake Ellis? #3, both right here at PLAYBACK:stl.
Click here for a preview of Uncle Scrooge #402, courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

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